Weight control can be a highly reactive subject. No wonder! Millions of people have tried countless times to succeed at the battle of the bulge only to watch the pounds creep back on time and time again. It can be an exasperating ordeal, and its clear that many have now pledged their diet allegiances to Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution in yet another attempt to claim victory with the bathroom scale. The "new" Atkins plan (which is actually a resurfacing of his book "Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution" published in the 70's) advocates a high protein, high fat diet with a significant restriction of dietary carbohydrate. Since the Atkins regimen contradicts the overwhelming majority of research on how to healthily lose and maintain weight, most public health professionals and organizations strongly disapprove of this diet. Many Atkins followers are incensed by the lack of support for their diet guru. Why perhaps because this fad diet could be another diet failure down the road -- a potential reality too difficult to face yet another time. But, many do feel an attachment to Atkins and other low-carb plans because a great number truly do lose weight. Keep in mind however, that there are many factors which must come into play if a diet can be considered truly successful over time. If the indicator of a successful diet is initial weight loss (which is mainly from muscle and water initially), and not long-term, permanent fat loss achieved in a healthy way, then my hats off to Atkins! Unfortunately, this and many other fad diets will not serve your long term health or your long-term success at weight control (and we do assume you would like to keep the pounds off forever). Consider the following:
Fad Diet Fallacies
If you are on the Atkins plan or are considering trying it, you may wish to take a good hard look at your dieting history first. How many diets have you tried over the years Everything from Optifast to Stillman Have you lost weight and regained it several times only to start on the next "miracle" plan Do you honestly feel that a low carb plan is something you can stick with for the rest of your life If not, then it's just a temporary fix like the rest of the fads. No more chocolate cake, mashed potatoes, french fries, spaghetti, pancakes, apple pie or other favorites. Forever. Even Atkins admits that if you go back to a higher carb diet again, the pounds will return. You've also got history and research against you. Studies show that restrictive diets which eliminate several foods or food groups have the worst failure rates over time -- a pretty dismal outlook. Unfortunately, many, caught in the initial weight loss euphoria of the low carb plan, will shun the research, hoping yet again, to beat the odds.
No Magic In Eliminating Carbohydrates
Why do some people lose weight on this diet Is there some magical phenomenon that occurs in the body when high carbohydrate foods are abolished No. The Atkins diet essentially eliminates several foods and food groups like fruits, cereals, breads, grains, starches, baked goods, dairy products, starchy vegetables, and sweets. This simply translates into a significant daily calorie reduction - the basis of any weight loss diet. Any reduction of calories - whether from protein, carbohydrate or fat - will result in weight loss. The basic weight loss formula is: calories burned must exceed calories consumed. Easily done when the majority of the foods on a typical day's menu are eliminated. There's nothing revolutionary about this regimen.
Rapid Water Loss
Many people become instantaneously hooked on the Atkins plan due to an initial rapid weight loss. The initial weight loss isn't coming from body fat though - it's coming from water. How's that The body's preferred energy source is glucose. When carbohydrates are significantly restricted, as they are on the Atkins diet, the body runs short on its constant supply of glucose - the breakdown product of carbohydrate. The body anticipates these situations by storing emergency glucose, known as glycogen, in the muscles and liver. For every one gram of glycogen the body stores, it must store with it three grams of water. If carbohydrate is significantly limited, the body will begin to break down these glycogen stores to obtain glucose for energy. And what do you suppose gets released and excreted when the glycogen gets broken down That's right - stored water - and lots of it. This gives the false appearance of a magical victory with the scale. If your goal is fat loss then this is certainly no cause for celebration.
What you can Eat
The plan allows you to eat foods that many dieters have only dreamed about. Atkins maintains his diet will work even if other diets have left you feeling depressed and deprived. The Atkins diet at a glance:
- Sets few limits on the amount of food you eat but instead severely restricts the kinds of food allowed on your plate: no refined sugar, milk, white rice, or white flour;
- Allows you to eat foods traditionally regarded as "rich": meat, eggs, cheese, and more;
- Claims to reduce your appetite in the process.
On the Atkins diet, you're eating almost pure protein and fat. You can consume red meat, fish (including shellfish), fowl, and regular cheese (not "diet" cheese, cheese spreads, or whey cheeses). You can cook with butter, have mayo with your tuna, put olive oil on your salads. On the other hand, carbs are severely restricted (less than 20 grams per day) in the first two weeks, which translates to no more than three cups of loosely packed salad or two cups of salad with two-thirds of a cup of certain cooked vegetables each day.
There are no exceptions to the above rules during the first two weeks, because Atkins considers it important to keep the carb consumption low to "jumpstart" the weight-loss biochemical activity of the diet. You're not counting calories (in fact you may be eating more calories than you were before).
Later, the carb allowance is upped, but you do not return to eating refined sugar (by the teaspoonful or in desserts), milk, white rice, white bread, or pasta made with the dreaded white flour. Those remain on a life-long list of forbidden pleasures.
Low carb plans arouse an irrational fear about the hormone insulin. Insulin, like other hormones in the body, has many vital functions. One function is to enable our cells to take up glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy. This gives us the ability to do everything from lifting a finger to recalling memories to running a marathon. Insulin has become unpopular (in obese countries) due to the fact that it helps the body store fat. Because of this fat storing function, low carb plans have condemned insulin to eternal damnation. Unfortunately, it's a very undeserved reputation based on false and twisted truths. One false theory is that only carbohydrate in the diet will stimulate insulin production. The truth is that all ingested foods stimulate insulin production. The second false theory is that insulin stores fat only when high carb foods are eaten. The bottom line with regard to the body's biochemistry is that fat will only be stored if too much food (from any source) is eaten. If the body takes in less calories than it uses in a day, all those calories will be "burned" or used for energy. It does not matter what percentage of those calories came from fat, protein or carbohydrate. On the other hand, if the body takes in more calories than it burns, insulin will help to store those extra calories as fat. Again, it does not matter where the extra calories come from. In fact, if the extra calories are from carbohydrate, the body actually burns additional calories in order to turn carbohydrate into fat for storage. In contrast, extra fat calories can be immediately stored as fat. To blame insulin as the sole contributor to obesity is not only ludicrous, it's irresponsible thinking. What about all those days when we got into our cars, sat at the office all day, got the supersize meal from the drive-through, "remote-controlled" the TV all night while devouring ice cream to comfort our stress and emotions Might this be a better explanation for rampant obesity in America Obesity is an extremely complex issue. It has to do not only with excess consumption of calories and lack of exercise, but also genetics, psychological issues, social issues, medical problems and so many other things. The fact that normal portion sizes at restaurants are growing ever more outrageous, and that high calorie, high fat foods are cheaper and more accessible than ever doesn't help either. Obesity is not a simple issue and insulin is not the cause.
Healthy populations Eat Carbs
The idea that a high carb diet is responsible for obesity and illness (a concept supported by low carb plans) is completely contradicted by many population-based studies. For instance, in Japan, carbohydrates compose the overwhelming majority of daily caloric intake. High carb foods like grains, rice, and vegetables are daily staples of Japanese life, and intake of high protein, high fat animal products is minimal. In contrast to the reported "evils" of carbohydrates touted by low carb plans, Japan has one of the lowest rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes in the world. Enough said.
Heart Disease Haven
The Atkins diet places no limit on the amount of saturated-fat-laden products one can have each day. Large portions of foods like butter, red meat and bacon are advocated and encouraged. The Atkins plan contradicts numerous studies which have demonstrated the significant correlation between diets high in saturated fat and increased heart disease risk. Dean Ornish, M.D., a renowned cardiologist and author of the book Dr. Dean Ornish's program For Reversing Heart Disease, showed an actual reversal of the heart disease process through a diet limited to only 10% of daily calories from fat. prior to Ornish's findings, significant reversal of heart disease was only thought possible through surgery. Ornish's study participants followed a diet abundant in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with the overwhelming majority of calories coming from carbohydrates. Dr. Atkins has not published a single study showing the long term effects of his diet on heart health. Considering his diet has been around since the 70's he's certainly had ample time (and ample money) to do so. Bottom line - heart disease is America's number one killer - if you have heart disease or a family history, stay away from low carb, high saturated fat diets.
The Cancer Connection
According to the National Cancer Institute, five servings of fruits and vegetables each day is the minimum amount one should eat in order to help significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer. In addition, studies have shown that approximately 35% of all cancer deaths in the U.S. may be related to poor dietary habits. High consumption of whole grain products has also been linked with reduced cancer risk. Can one consume the amount of produce and whole grains necessary to significantly help prevent cancer on the Atkins diet Impossible. plentiful amounts of fruits and vegetables and whole grains would constitute too many carbohydrates, and would not be allowed. If these nutritious staples contain literally thousands of compounds showing promise in preventing cancer and so many other chronic diseases, why are they off limits Because they have too many carbs of course - those dreaded compounds which Atkins feels are solely responsible for all our health and weight worries. Bottom line - cancer is America's number two killer - be wary of low carb plans if you are interested in reducing cancer risk through diet.
Only Food Can provide Optimal Nutrition
Because low carb diets eliminate so many foods and food groups, getting the Recommended Daily Allowance of the nutrients the body needs on these plans is a difficult task. Conveniently, Atkins came up with his own line of expensive nutritional supplements to add to his fortune. Many are led to believe that taking supplements each day equals the same optimal nutrition we get from food. Wrong. Even "supplemented" low carb diets fall short on the latest nutrition phenomenon - phytochemicals. Research has isolated literally thousands of these protective substances in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. phytochemicals are showing promise in helping to prevent everything from cataracts to cancer, and hosts of other chronic illnesses. It is as yet impossible to encapsulate these substances into a daily pill in the same optimal ratio and form that only nature can deliver. In addition, studies show that supplements fail to deliver the same disease fighting properties that whole foods do. In short, vitamins and minerals provide us with what we need to live, but phytochemicals provide us with what we need to live healthily. Sadly, falling for the mistaken notion that high carb foods are bad means missing out on daily protection from phytochemical-packed fruits, vegetables and grains. You won't find them in meats and animal products - the basis of the Atkins diet.
Any 70's Successes
Low carbohydrate diet regimens have been in existence for decades. Dr. Atkins published his first book back in the 70's based on the same concepts as his current book. If these plans worked in the long run, the release of new diet books wouldn't even be necessary. The followers would have actually been capable of maintaining weight loss by eliminating high carbohydrate foods for over 25 years. Their long term weight loss success stories would have spread worldwide as the cure to obesity. paradoxically, as more and more diets appear, the weight loss industry continues to get richer, and America continues to grow fatter.